The Perseverance rover on Mars has just completed a test where carbon dioxide is converted into oxygen, making it the first time oxygen has been extracted from the red planet.
The test took place using the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), which was placed aboard the Perseverance and landed on Mars on February 28. On April 20, NASA completed tests with the toaster-sized MOXIE, successfully converting carbon dioxide gas to oxygen gas.
Scientists from NASA say that this test will “make science-fiction become science fact”, theorizing that oxygen created on Mars could be used to power rockets to lift people off the surface of the planet. The air is not yet breathable by humans, but researchers are confident that they will one day figure out how to make it possible.
Oxygen is a crucial component of space travel as rockets need to have more oxygen by weight in order for its fuel to burn. Having a steady supply of renewable oxygen on Mars would effectively make routine space flights off of the planet feasible.
Mars’ atmosphere is comprised of 96% carbon dioxide, the primary fuel that drives MOXIE’s oxygen production. Oxygen atoms are pulled from the carbon dioxide molecules and turned into pure oxygen, with carbon monoxide being released as a waste product.
The MOXIE is designed to create around 10 grams of breathable oxygen per hour. Most humans consume about 5 grams of oxygen in a 10 minute timespan.
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